Earlier in the year, we were able to get a first look back at Tembo the Badass Elephant at EGX Rezzed in London just a day after it’s initial announcement. Now, as the game’s development gets closer to completion, we got to take another look at the surprising collaboration between Sega & Gamefreak (known for Drill Dozer, HarmoKnight and some monster-catching rpg series). From playing through the early parts of the game, it’s shaping up to be a great evolution of classic platformers from generations past.
If you have fond memories of platformers from the Mega Drive (Genesis for our US friends) or the SNES, Tembo seems to build on those types of games, while introducing it’s own take on the classic formula. The name even looks like it came from the era of when Sega was positioning itself as the more ‘edgy’ and ‘extreme’ alternative to Nintendo’s safe and family friendly persona.
Right from the beginning, Tembo, the battle-hardened army elephant, has a wide range of moves and abilities at his disposal, which he’ll need to defeat the evil Phantom army terrorising the city. You can charge forward, jump , roll, spray water, uppercut, powerslide, and more, some of which you can combo together to get through tricky obstacles. As I noticed back when I first saw the game, it still reminds me a lot of Donkey Kong Country from the movement, collecting peanuts and even using cannons to shoot to other parts of the level, which is quite good considering the first couple DKC games were some of the best 2d platformers I’ve played.
The first couple levels ease you into the game, before turning up the difficulty in later levels with more enemy types scattered around, perilous jumps, more complex platforming and some interesting physics based mini-puzzle segments. Luckily each level has several checkpoints throughout, in case you miss a jump or get taken down by any nefarious evil-doers. In contrast to some of the modern 2d platformers that have aimed to be easier for new players to manage (primarily those from Nintendo), Tembo’s levels continue to increase in difficulty by layering on more challenging obstacles and enemies to keep you on your toes. The fact that you also have a limited number of lives/retries before being kicked out to the level select screen will make you want to avoid needlessly failing even more.
Each of the levels has you making your way through the phantom controlled areas, before destroying one of the enemy statues at the end of the level. You could just try and get from point A to point B as quickly as you can, or you can also explore several alternate or hidden areas and paths to rescue hostages hidden throughout the level. With on-line leaderboards also integrated into the game, that brings extra incentive to try and get as many of the hostages and enemies as possible to achieve the highest scores you can. With some levels taking between 5 to 10 minutes to fully complete, it’ll be interesting to see some of the speedruns the more competitive players can manage once the full game is available.
The 2D Comic book style of Tembo looks great in HD, and the mix of 2D and 3D assets within the levels is done in a way where both styles work together without being too overwhelming. Charging through buildings and having the 3D models explode into the camera never gets old. With the current build of the game in our preview everything ran smoothly on the PS4, with only one or two instances of the frame rate slowing down when a lot of explosions and enemies were on screen. Also, I’m not sure if this is a specific to the PS4 version, but the directional control sometimes seems to be too sensitive when using the analog stick for movement. I had several times where I accidentally sent Tembo into a slide instead of running forward, even after switching to an alternate controller. Hopefully this isn’t a widespread issue as it could make it a bit annoying when you need to line up jumps or attacks but are sent diagonally or in a different direction instead.
From what I could see of the first couple hours of Tembo the Badass Elephant, it’s definitely looking like a solid platforming experience for fans of the genre. The lack of difficulty assists and unlimited retries might put off those who have come to expect similar features from modern platformers but Tembo should be worth playing for anyone who enjoys these types of games.